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Sacramento Republic acquire new lead investor for MLS expansion push

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Sacramento Republic FC took a giant step forward on Tuesday in its pursuit of a Major League Soccer expansion slot.

The club announced in a statement that it had secured the financial investment of billionaire Ron Burkle, an American venture capitalist who also is a part-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. According to Sacramento Republic chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle, Burkle becomes the team’s new lead investor after a long search.

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“For more than a year, we have worked tirelessly alongside Mayor (Darrell) Steinberg to identify a new lead investor that further strengthens our bid to bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento,” Nagle said. “While we held discussions with several potential investors, our focus was, and remains, on finding the right lead investor whose vision for our club and our city best aligns with ours.

“Mr. Burkle is an exceptional leader and businessman, a champion sports owner, a dedicated philanthropist, and someone with a deep appreciation for Sacramento. He is the ideal person to lead the next chapter of our club.”

Founder of the Yucaipa Companies, a venture-capitalist firm, Burkle is reported by Forbes Magazine to hold a net worth of $2 billion, immediately making him one of the richest owners in the American soccer landscape. And according to multiple reports out of Sacramento, the backing of a billionaire was the biggest roadblock between Sacramento joining MLS.

The Sacramento Bee provided some additional notes from the announcement. It’s expected that Burkle will purchase not only the team but also the stadium, which is expected to be privately funded and cost around $250 million. Including a potential future MLS expansion fee of $150 million or more, Burkle could be playing close to half a billion dollars as part of this deal, no small chump change. Nagle meanwhile is expected to stay on as a senior executive.

Since bringing in huge crowds of 10,000 or more fans for their 2014 run to the USL Cup title (which was a lot back in those days), Sacramento seemed to be on the edge of MLS expansion. But since that run, due to missing out on key financial invesments from deep-pocketed owners, Sacramento has been passed by and forced to stay in USL.

Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and Los Angeles FC have all started play in MLS, with FC Cincinnati joining this season. Nashville SC, Inter Miami and Austin FC have all clinched places to start in MLS within the next three years. Meanwhile other cities like Detroit, San Diego and St. Louis are battling with Sacramento for the 28th and (for now) final place in MLS’ expansion journey.

Tech exec Whitman joins Sacramento MLS expansion bid

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NEW YORK (AP) Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., joined the bid of Sacramento, California, for a Major League Soccer franchise on Wednesday as the four finalists made presentations to the league’s expansion committee.

Sacramento and Nashville, Tennessee, are considered the favorites to be awarded teams next month. Cincinnati and Detroit also are bidding.

Sacramento’s bid includes Kevin Nagle, a minority owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. The group said in July it was starting pre-construction activity for a 19,621-seat downtown stadium.

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“The committee asked very tough questions, and we’ll come back with all the answers,” Nagle said. “We never take anything for granted.”

Nashville’s group includes John Ingram, the chairman of Ingram Industries Inc., and the Wilf family, owner of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. The Metro Nashville City Council on Nov. 7 approved $225 million in revenue bonds to construct a 27,500-seat soccer stadium and an additional $50 million in bonds for renovations and improvements around the site at the current fairgrounds.

“People all across our city, from elected officials to business and civic leaders, soccer fans and the public, have joined together in support of this bid,” Ingram said. “We believe MLS and Nashville are a perfect match and are ready to prove that Music City is Soccer City.”

Cincinnati’s group includes Carl H. Lindner III, co-CEO of American Financial Group and owner of FC Cincinnati in the second-tier United Soccer League. The Cincinnati City Council approved a plan for the city to invest up to $36 million in infrastructure such as roads around a privately funded stadium. The community council in the Oakley neighborhood where the stadium would be built voted against the proposal.

Detroit’s group is seen as having the poorest chance after announcing Nov. 1 it would use Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Lions. The group includes Dan Gilbert, owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc., and Tom Gores, owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and chairman of Platinum Equity.

MLS owners plan to discuss expansion when they meet in New York on Dec. 14.

The league has 22 teams this season and Los Angeles FC is to start play in March at a new stadium under construction near the Coliseum. Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star David Beckham was tentatively awarded a Miami team in 2014, but that is contingent on a stadium site he has thus far failed to secure.

The league in 2015 announced plans to expand to 28 teams and said last December that teams 25 and 26 will start play by 2020.

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

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Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

U.S. Open Cup fifth round sees five all-MLS ties

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The three remaining lower tier sides in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup learned their fates for the next round of play, and their paths to the semifinals.

Alessandro Nesta and NASL side Miami FC will need to knock off visiting Atlanta United and then handle either Chicago Fire or fellow upstarts FC Cincinnati of the USL.

[ MORE: Picking the Confederations Cup ]

The third lower tier side, the USL’s Sacramento Republic, has to take care of the LA Galaxy and then the winner of a tilt between MLS clubs San Jose and Seattle.

In the East, it’ll be New England hosting DC United and the Philadelphia Union visiting the New York Red Bulls, while the Central has Sporting KC off to Houston and FC Dallas hosting Colorado.

The first matches will be held June 27 or 28, with the quarterfinals on July 11.

Three MLS sides upset in U.S. Open Cup fourth round

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A trio of lower tier teams sent MLS clubs packing as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup sealed its Round of 16 field on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Southampton fires Puel ]

Two USL sides and an NASL entrant knocked off Columbus, Orlando City, and Real Salt Lake, with Orlando losing at home and RSL buried by three goals.

FC Cincinnati 1-0 Columbus Crew

Well-traveled 32-year-old striker Djiby Fall scored a 64th minute goal to give 30,160 fans in Cincinnati an absolute thrill in what’s been a trying season for FCC.

Orlando City 1-3 Miami FC

Stefano Pinho scored a hat trick before the hour mark, and a Giles Barnes 79th minute marker was the only goal the MLS hoss could muster at Orlando City Stadium.

Sacramento Republic 4-1 Real Salt Lake

A crowd of 11,569 saw the hosts build a 3-1 halftime lead and then polish off RSL with a 71st minute goal from Danny Barrera.

Taking it personally? Yep. Here’s RSL’s lone goal scorer.

LA Galaxy 3-1 Orange County SC

Not an upset, but a wild strike from LA’s Jose Villarreal:

Elsewhere
New England Revolution 3-0 Rochester Rhinos
New York Red Bulls 1-0 New York City FC
Philadelphia Union 3-1 Harrisburg City Islanders
DC United 4-1 Christos FC
Atlanta United 3-2 Charleston Battery
Saint Louis FC 0-1 Chicago Fire
North Carolina FC 2-3 Houston Dynamo
FC Dallas 2-1 Tulsa Roughnecks
Sporting KC 4-0 Minnesota United
Colorado Rapids 3-2 Oklahoma City Energy
LA Galaxy 3-1 Orange County SC
San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 San Francisco Deltas
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Portland Timbers

The fifth round draw is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET Thursday.